|Romania has other major cities including the capital Bucharest and Craiova. What is the position of the Sibiu theater world in Romania as a whole?
With Sibiu’s designation as a European Capital of Culture, its theater scene is the most active in Romania. What’s more, Sibiu also has things like the impressive outdoor museum and the Brukenthal National Museum. In this sense you can say that Sibiu holds the position of a cultural leader in Romania. In the field of theater, I believe that Sibiu also serves as a leader for the surrounding countries.
For example, our Radu Stanca Theater will be conducting 28 international tours of its productions this year alone. There are 12 large theaters in Bucharest, but all of them combined don’t equal this number of international tours. This is clear evidence of how active Radu Stanca is.
Craiova has an international Shakespeare festival. What is your relationship with this festival?
This is a biennial festival, and as a Shakespeare festival it has achieved a high level of excellence. It generally features 10 to 15 invited productions from Romania and abroad. Although the number of productions staged is not large, each time they chose quite important productions to invite to the festival. Besides this, there is also a domestic theater festival held in Bucharest. This festival invites the best productions from around the country each year. In addition to these there are also smaller festivals held in almost all the major cities of Romania, some of which specialize in contemporary theater and others in Romanian plays.
I saw a number of different Romanian theater productions at the Sibiu and personally I was impressed by the great talent of the actors and the strength of their physical presence and also by the highly experimental nature of many of the plays. What are your thoughts on Romanian theater?
Because of Romania’s situation as a geographical crossroads in Europe, we have been influenced by Russian theater deriving from Stanislavsky and by German Expressionism. As for today’s influences, Heiner Müller is an important one. Also, since Romanians are a Latin people ethnically, we are also influenced by the strong physicality of Italian Commedia Dell’Arte. It can be said that the influences from these various directions have created a very rich theatrical environment in Romania.
Wasn’t experimental type theater prohibited during the Ceausescu era? In most socialist countries at that time social realist theater was the prominent form of theater, I believe. Was it different in Romania?
In Poland there was quite experimental theater like Tadeusz Kantor during the communist era. In Romania as well, there was a branch of theater influenced by the developments in Poland. There were also experimental movements imitating the styles of important international directors. During the Ceausescu era we had a sort of lab that experimented with different types of theater. But, at the time, the Secret Police was very watchful regarding such movements and it was a bit dangerous. Especially when the contents of the lays dealt with ideology, the directors were usually forced to go into exile abroad. As a result, several dozens or perhaps even more than a hundred directors and actors eventually fled to foreign countries. For example, Andrei Serban is one who was involved in various experimental works that made him the object of suspicion and forced him flee the country.
Is the current international economic crisis having an effect on your festival?
I believe that the current international economic crisis is based in a lack of mutual trust and understanding. The inability to believe your partner or a lack of understanding between the different countries’ agencies or governments can be causes. In that sense I believe that not having a firm relationship of trust with your partner is even more serious a problem than the financial crisis. With the right effort, a financial crisis can always be solved. A lack of trust in international relationships is a more dangerous matter.
Of course, the economic crisis has had a big effect on our festival. But it is a very interesting and ironic fact that an organization or individual with true vision, or a group with strong partners can actually at times achieve greater things during a time of crisis than in normal conditions. That is why I am always thinking positively about what can be done in the conditions we are faced with, even when they are negative. When there is a lack of money, complaining and lamenting are the easiest things to do, but they don’t do any good. It is in times of difficulty that you have to grab the initiative and act positively.
There is also a crisis for the Romanian government, of course, and they are struggling to make the best possible use of their budget. Because of this situation, the programs with solid proposals will get solid budget support, while proposals that are not backed by experience and solid contents will probably be refused. If it is a project that has plenty foreign partner support and cooperation, they may get budget increases, as our festival has. Conversely, festivals that are lacking in achievements and have no particularly outstanding features will receive smaller budgets or may even be terminated in times like these.
I would like to add that we are now proceeding with a project to build a new theater facility with funding from the EU. It is a large comprehensive facility with three halls, one with 500 seats, another with 300 and a third with 150 seats as well as a rehearsal space of the same scale for each of the three. It is designed so the seating can be moved around freely to different arrangements, and the facility can also be converted into a 1500-seat conference hall. We also plan to have two elegant restaurants and a small hotel with accommodations for 70, so that companies that come here to perform can lodge there. Facilities like these should make international co-production projects even easier and enable us to bring in new audience.
Lastly, I would like to ask you this. I get the impression from what you have said that you believe that theater can make a contribution to the development of democracy. Is this true?
I spoke earlier about how a community can use culture and the arts to achieve development in numerous areas. During the 3-year period when we were preparing for European Capital of Culture certification, there was probably as much money invested in the development of Sibiu in an intensive period of less than three years than had been invested in the previous 25 years. Also, during that period we did things like inviting important companies from around the world in areas like street performance, presenting high-quality popular plays and holding outdoor performances of street performance and plays in an attempt to attract as many citizens as possible to our audience. We also held many free performances. The result was a synergistic effect in which reaching a scale where we were able to attract a total audience of 60,000 people a day at our festival encouraged more active support from sponsors while also enabling to lower the rice of tickets. Also, doing things like organizing cultural events at various venues around the city such as our historical sites succeeded in attracting audience that had never set foot inside our theaters.
These efforts helped more people experience the “miracle of the arts” and gave more citizens reason to feel pride in the city of Sibiu. Thinking back 15 years ago, when we first invited a troupe of street performers who performed on stilts, old women and children were so shocked by the “strange people invading the streets” that they cowered on the street and crossed themselves in terror (laughs), but now such sights are commonplace attractions to them. And sometimes today when I take a taxi in the city of Sibiu, the driver won’t accept a fare from me, saying how indebted they are to me for the business they get during the festival (laughs). I think these are wonderful things that show how the city has changed [thanks to the festival] and examples of how the foundations of democracy have been strengthened.
Thank you for your very stimulating interview.